Today we did a little paddling on the Hell's Bay Canoe Trail in Everglades National Park. We carry three Sea Eagle inflatable boats with us as we travel, so it was time to get one of them in the water. They are quite durable, but they aren't as much fun in high winds, so we had to take this somewhat sheltered paddling trip on this beautiful, but windy, day.
From the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park.
It was a little cloudy this morning. I was hoping to get some sunrise photos, but that didn't happen.
However, it did clear up and we prepared for a boat trip. The only issue was the wind, so we needed to take one of the more sheltered canoe trails of the six in the area.
We chose the Hell's Bay Canoe Trail - a 5.5-mile one way paddle. We didn't plan on doing the whole thing, but we wanted to at least make it to the first backcountry campsite about three miles in.
The parking area is simply a pull-off on the main park road north of Flamingo. And the launch is right there on the road at a small deck.
Yep, that's the trail. The beginning is very shallow and very narrow through the mangroves.
We hoped our Sea Eagle SE370 was up for this unknown challenge.
Linda got a little video at the beginning.
There are 174 white PVC pipe markers on this trail, most of them numbered. Through the first 50 markers, the trail is much as you saw in the video above and this one below.
As Linda said in the video, we had to break down our kayak paddles and we each used one end like canoe paddles to get through the narrowest parts.
Linda had a mosquito net, but it was so breezy, the bugs weren't bad at all.
Our wildlife highlight of the day came at marker 45 where we saw a large otter. It was a really good look, but short - not enough time to get either camera on it.
From marker 50 through 80, it was alternating narrow areas and small ponds.
After marker 80, it opened up enough to put our paddles back together.
Of course the wind was more of a problem from that point. It was an east wind and we were paddling sort of northwest, so it was a helping wind much of the time. However, the trail has so many turns, it was also in our face many places.
Once out into the more open area, there are lots of side trails and you really have to pay attention to the markers. If you make one wrong turn and don't see any markers for awhile, you can backtrack. But if you make two wrong turns, you might never come back.
Yesterday, we saw a couple of Swallow-tailed Kites flying around. We saw a pair today as well. Linda did her best to try to get one of them on video. It's not great, but it gives you an idea.
They are beautiful black and white birds of prey.
We didn't see much else in the way of wildlife. A few birds, mostly Ospreys. But it was a nice paddle.
At about marker 154, the first backcountry campsite, called Lard Can, came into view. It's about three miles into the trail.
After Lard Can, the trail really opens up as it goes on to the second campsite, the Pearl Bay Chickee at 3.5 miles, and the end of the trail at 5.5. miles in, the Hell's Bay Chickee. With the wind increasing and the water getting more open, we decided Lard Can was far enough.
Here's a short video of us approaching Lard Can.
There is a nice dock and little spot to pull in your kayak or canoe.
Behind the dock is a sheltered, shaded spot for a tent, and off to the side is a porta-potty.
We had lunch and then sat on the dock taking in the quiet scenery and watching the minnows below. I'm already planning a return trip to Flamingo, and when we have more time, I think we will do some backcountry camping. I passed the idea by Linda, and she didn't shoot it down, so it sounds like she'd be up for spending a couple nights deep in the Everglades backcountry.
We departed Lard Can just as four kayakers approached to take our place.
Back on the water, we were glad we didn't go any farther. With the stronger wind more in our face going back, it was a good decision to start our return.
By the end of our six-mile, five-hour trip, we were ready to be finished. It was a nice paddle through the mangroves, but we can't say it was one of our favorites.
The SE 370, handled everything perfectly, as usual. We deflated it, threw it in the Jeep and headed back to the campground.